Saturday, 16 May 2015

borneo part three: turtle island

Another early morning, another long twisting drive through the dense green. We continued to be shocked by the sprawl of palm trees and amazed by the haunting jungle peaks rising out of the distant clouds. We were driven to an ocean spotted by colourful boats and communities of huts standing on stilts. Our own boat rose and fell through the pulse of the waves and it was difficult to avoid getting wet, but with the warmth of the sun, we didn't mind at all. We dipped our hands into the spray and appreciated the coolness. The water was so blue and there was so much garbage.

Our destination was Turtle Island where Green Sea Turtles come to nest. It is a tiny island right on the border with the Philippines so there are military men stationed there alongside those working with the turtles. Two soldiers decided to walk with us on our last night and transferred some pictures of a nesting mamma turtle to my phone while promising to let us play with some of the baby sea turtles that were waiting for release near their camp if we visited them in the morning, We didn't end up visiting them or their turtles, but I think that might have had more to do with us sleeping in then intentionally refuting their advances.

The island is one third soft white sand and two thirds lava rock. It's small enough that you can walk around the entire island in a short amount of time, though as someone who did it, I don't recommend it unless if you have proper shoes. I left Bella sketching on the beach to go for a walk in my bare feet and when I reached the border of sand and rock, a passing man warned me against going any further without shoes. I am stubborn and I love a challenge, so I ignored his advice. I spent the next forty minutes jumping and stumbling over a massive field of rough boulders trying to avoid the sharp shells that covered the ground. Thankfully, I have fairly good balance (Bella nicknamed me "mountain goat" after we climbed a volcano together last year in Bali because apparently I looked pretty agile) and managed to escape without injury or breaking my camera. I fell twice, but became aware that I was going to fall early enough in the process that my landing was as soft and painless as possible.

When I finally rejoined Bella on the beach, she was still sketching whilst sitting upon a giant driftwood stump. I collapsed into the sand-- completely relieved and exhausted and ready to tell the story of my foolishness.

That night was magical. Our guide took us to the beach under the twinkle of the stars to watch a giant mamma turtle lay her eggs in a pit she had dug in the ground. She was in a trance, fully focused on fulfilling her role and duty to her species. A park ranger perched near her rear and scooped up the eggs as they fell, dripping, and placed them in a bucket. They were then taken to the nursery where they could be watched and kept safe from predators until they re-emerged from the sand. Watching the mamma turtle was such a humbling and beautiful experience.

Once she had completed her task, we were taken to the nursery to meet a basket full of squirming, tiny youngsters. They were so small with flailing flippers and little black eyes. We took them to a beach far away from the nesting mammas to watch them be released. Bella and I were in love with the little ones and got very excited when our guide told us that if any of the babies started to run towards us, then to please pick them up gently and turn them in the right direction. As fate would have it, some babies scurried towards us and we were able to hold them. One was so determined to avoid the ocean that we had to carry him to the waves.

Releasing a baby sea turtle into the ocean where he will hopefully live for many decades to come is definitely one of the most magical things that I have experienced.